Tag Archives: aerobic fitness

Heat Acclimation and Blood Volume In Running

One of the subjects Jonathan Savage (the FellRNR running guy) discusses at length is heat acclimation training, where you train specifically in hot conditions to either prepare yourself to race in hot conditions or to successfully race in less extreme, even more normal temperatures.

This is of course amusing to me as we in Las Vegas (and most of the United States, admittedly) are currently suffering through a bout of extreme heat. And in Vegas, we’re used to high heat, with summer days topping 100° Fahrenheit (38° Celsius), but the 110-120°F heat we have now is even above our typical pay grade.

Thus, those of us who run in Vegas get to practice heat acclimation training whether we want to or not!

Of course, Savage refers mainly to winter training for a spring marathon. In the winter temperatures fall below freezing in most parts of the country. If eventually you have to run a marathon in 60-80°F weather (15-25°C), you’re going to get hit hard by relatively warm conditions, even though you’d love to have those conditions in the middle of August. Your body will have acclimated to the other extreme of those cold conditions.

On top of that, Savage typically runs ultra-marathons in more extreme conditions like the hot and dry Badwater 135 race. So he’s not just dealing with a slightly warm marathon in London or Boston. He’s dealing with potentially 100°F heat with doubly dehydrating dry conditions. So even if it’s negative celsius or fahrenheit outside he needs to bundle up to prepare for running in 100°F weather.

Now, all that said, just because you or I have no intention of attempting such a race coming out of winter doesn’t mean that heat acclimation isn’t valuable.

Even with no races on the horizon, running in summer heat and the resulting heat acclimation (within healthy reason: Don’t go taking extended runs once the temperatures are over 100° without an abundance of cooling resources and support)… has one additional key benefit.

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Endurance is best built through your regular runs, rather than your long run

Runners understandably focus on their long runs while training for races from the 5K to marathons and ultras. Your ability to run long determines how well you run your longest races, and long runs help build the aerobic capability that carries you through races of all distances.

However, the long run also receives too much focus. I’m not going to call the long run overrated, because long runs definitely are not overrated. They’re important. But long runs are one component of a successful training plan, and building your aerobic endurance and performance requires more than getting your long run in every week.

And no, I don’t mean doing your speedwork. In fact, improving your aerobic capability requires no speedwork at all (though speedwork can certainly help your running economy, and is valuable for maximizing your race day speed).

We fixate on the length of our long runs. We fixate on the speed at which we run our speedwork. But we don’t pay much attention to the length of our regular runs, and it turns out the latter is as important (if not more important) to developing our aerobic endurance.

To briefly summarize and blow over a ton of science:

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Injuries, your aerobic fitness, and your neuromuscular fitness

person seating on bench while holding knees

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Most common injuries happen because your aerobic fitness improves before your neuromuscular fitness does. You aerobically can run faster, but your bones/muscles/tendons/etc can’t handle running faster yet.

This is actually one (of many) reasons many running minds oppose tempo running. You’re often asking a lot from your body’s structure before it’s built up strength to handle it. While I don’t consider that a damning argument against tempo running, that’s a valid point.

This is also a key reason most recommend you do most of your running at an easy pace. You may be aerobically able to run faster, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your body is ready to run faster. The best way to help your body build the strength to run faster over time is to ask it to run a lot, rather than to ask it to run faster.

The high volume of lower stress running builds the strength and endurance that will facilitate faster running later. Obviously it’s still a good idea to do some faster running, but not too much.

If you struggle with shin splints, IT band issues, knee/ankle/hip problems or muscle injuries… you may want to keep running, but slow way down.

You also will want to work on your form and make sure you’re not slamming your feet into the ground, unnecessarily torqueing your body or bearing weight on your joints, etc. This is to some extent a contributing factor to recurring injuries.

But for the most part, your recurring injuries are from running too hard too much too soon as your aerobic fitness grows ahead of your neuromuscular fitness.

If you want more info on the relationship between aerobic and neuromuscular fitness, the book Build Your Running Body is a great all-around running resource for this and other subject. It’s definitely worth a look.

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